March 25, 2015 by dontbringlulubook
Doris Onions, the mother of Louise Onions, wrote this impassioned letter about her younger daughter in 1968. It’s reproduced here as it was originally written
Re: Louise Onions – aged 6.
We discovered that Louise had been born without a thyroid gland at 3 months. We were told by several Specialists that if she was given a daily dose of thyroxin for the rest of her life, although somewhat slow, she should manage to attend a normal school. It was at 3 years that what we could only designate as “temper tantrums” and very difficult periods during part of each day, started but we were assured that this was part and parcel of her condition. These children are very carefully supervised and Louise attended Great Ormond Street every 3 months. Time and time again we tried to ascertain why she should be so very difficult (would lie still on the floor or anywhere in public and just scream – she later began to throw and kick everything in sight) but even at this stage it was never suggested that perhaps there was some brain damage which would account for this behaviour. Strangely enough she was quite the opposite of what is expected of a thyroid case, being very quick in movements, over active – perpetually on the move instead of being under-active, tall, strong, full of brimming health and beautifully made – teeth all arrived on time etc. etc. We managed to get the local nursery school to cope with her three hours each morning but felt terribly guilty and worried that she should be more than the teacher could cope with. They were very kind but eventually we realised that this child was never going to be able to attend a normal school and managed to get her accepted into the nursery class at a Training school for Mentally Handicapped children. Because she wasn’t fully toilet trained this seemed to get worse when she started the school as they were terribly overworked and under-staffed and had even to look after non-ambulant children (some of whom couldn’t move a muscle themselves). In spite of this however, she did respond to the school and we had no difficulty getting her to go to the school. She was picked up daily by the local authorities’ ambulance and on many occasions had to be strapped in by the drivers because she would throw a tantrum and throw herself about the bus. The school did help our home situation because at least one could catch one’s breath and be ready to begin the battle when she returned. The school found Louise one of their most difficult children and suggested it would be better for everyone if she went to a residential school for a period (looking back I realise they were right but we soldiered on – I’m a Speech and Drama Lecturer and thought the fact that I had taught normal children would help me to cope with this situation) – but the fact that we also have a normal daughter four years older than Louise (Sarah is now 10) and a husband who is a TV producer with very difficult hours made me realise the terrible daily strain of dealing with a strong, heavy, difficult child was becoming too much. We made numerous enquiries about various residential schools and were put off by the fact that a friend (who also had a handicapped Mongol daughter) told us they knew two children who had died in the local home that had been suggested to us. We wrote to Camphill-Steiner school in Aberdeen but we were told there was a long waiting list and that the fees were in the region of £600 a year – even a reasonable salary won’t cope with paying this much. We’d also been told that the Ravenswood Foundation School in Berkshire would be ideal for Louise but once again the fees were too high. We were becoming desperate in 1967 – we’d been helped by grandparents taking the child for 3 weeks whilst we had a holiday but we could see that the restrictions are beginning to affect Sarah (she’s been absolutely marvellous all through but why should she have to put up with the constant strain of never knowing when another terrible outburst would happen). Louise also suffered terribly from constipation but neither the hospital or local doctor were very concerned and even when we suggested (much against our own real feelings that we didn’t want any drug, that might calm her down , to effect her progress) that we could give her something mild and to steady her down wasn’t met with any approval or real understanding of the hell we were putting up with (as much as we could at home as we daren’t take her anywhere, only very privately in the car for little runs).
My husband’s job at last resolved the situation (though here it was not easy to get Louise into America and lots of high level consultation took place), and he took the post of B.B.C. TV organiser for New York.
This was the end of the first page of this impassioned letter which gives an idea of the strain undergone by the Onions’ family because of Louise’s condition. The second page no longer exists.